On the night of August 1, 2005, I was flying 3000 feet above Baghdad in a C-130 military aircraft preparing to land. It was dark and cold inside as the soldiers and I sat wedged together.  It made me feel like I was in one of those Hollywood movie actions about to start a major operation.  It was an action movie, but this time, it was different. This time, it was real.

Twenty years ago, this life was a distant dream for me. In 1993, my family and I were Iraqi refugees in Jordan waiting for my immigration visa to come to US.  My family and I waited in Jordan for eighteen months in order to receive our visas and another chance at life in America. After arriving in America I enrolled in and graduated from University of DePaul; earning a Bachelor of Science degree in Information Systems and a Master’s of Science Degree in Electronic Commerce. I graduated at the top of my class in both degree programs (3.75 GPA and 3.78 GPA, respectively). After college, in 2005, I started working for a very prestigious consulting company, Accenture; supporting one of their major clients, the Illinois Department of Employment Security (IDES).  I was working with a cutting-edge computer programming language called JAVA. Life was good. Also in 2005, I just bought my lovely car, a Lexus GS300 2002. Life was good and something I never could have imagined all those years ago. But I was not finished. My next goal was to start my own internet business.

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In the middle of July 2005, I received a phone call asking me if I was ready to go and serve America. It was a recruiter for a linguist contracting company for the Department of Defense. Here, now, was one of life’s random opportunities that all depended on the decision I would make. It was one of the most difficult decisions to make in my life and would prove to be a major turning point.

At about 3AM, the C130 touched down Baghdad Airport in the pitch dark night. The C130 was descending vertically (a landing maneuver to ensure the safety of the plane from being shot by terrorists). As the plane corkscrewed down, a crew-member shouted while gesturing wildly, “Get ready, we are landing in Baghdad!”

We landed. As the back door of the plane opened, a new horizon emerged.  While I was walking behind all the soldiers and carrying three stuffed Army duffel bags, I kept thinking and asking myself endless questions: What did I do? Was it the right decision to make? Was I crazy to leave all the luxury I dream for in America years ago, yet to come back to same country that I escaped from? It was a moment that will stay with me for the rest of my life. It was a life changing experience. It was priceless.

I stayed working in Iraq until January of 2010. I hated some days, and others I loved every bit of. I did it to test every ounce of willpower. It feels like I went to heaven and hell, then back again. I had a whole new appreciation for the comforts of living in American.  I learned that showers and bathrooms are luxuries. I challenged every physical, mental, and emotional strength in my body. It was a completely new zone for me. It was a war, a civil war; filled with mortars, rockets, and road side bombs.

When I left Iraq and stopped working with the US Army, it symbolized the end of an era in my life. The memories and experiences of that place, working with US Generals who made history, the hardships, and the victories are the treasures I took with me when I left. It made me millionaire, but this time, not in sense of the startup that I dreamed of, but in the experiences that will never be recreated and will remain priceless.

Some time we need to pivot in life as opportunities present themselves to us and not get stuck in Plan A. Sometimes, we just need to put a good Plan A on pause. Random opportunities in life come in very few quantities.  And when we pivot to Plan B, it is not a defeat, but a means to change direction in order to take advantage of those random opportunities. I pivoted to Plan B and have never looked back.

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